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A court ruling that effectively reinstates corruption charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma could hardly have come at a worse moment for him and the party that has dominated South Africa since the end of apartheid.
There appears little doubt that Zuma will be the party’s presidential candidate ahead of elections expected around April, but the ANC now faces its toughest electoral test yet with hefty graft charges hanging over its man.
Prosecutors say the ruling means Zuma remains charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering. This might severely hurt his image, internationally and at home, during a battle to fend off a challenge from the new party of ANC dissidents called COPE. The ANC is still expected to win, but maybe without such a sweeping parliamentary majority to be able to shape laws as it wishes.
The news brought renewed concerns of political instability and the rand fell to a one-month low.
Given that the leaders of the world’s most firmly capitalist countries are splashing around unprecedented billions to nationalise banks, prop up industry and try to get economies moving, it might seem churlish for anyone to question South Africa’s ruling ANC for planning to spend a bit more freely.
This weekend, the African National Congress set out its election manifesto priorities of creating jobs and improving education and health – promises interpreted by many as marking a generally leftward shift under the leadership of president in waiting Jacob Zuma.
Keith Gottschalk, The University of the Western Cape
The Presidency currently has a line item budget of 10 million rand per year for Zuma’s legal expenses. By South African standards, this is a record. It will certainly enable his legal team to appeal every point of procedure, then if necessary the verdict, and sentence. Each appeal starts with a delay of six or nine months on the court rolls, repeated as it winds it way upwards through a full bench of the High Court, followed by the Supreme Court of Appeal, followed by the Constitutional Court.